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Legislature

Alabama House to address both budgets Thursday

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama House of Representatives met in Montgomery to consider legislation as the 2020 legislative session winds down. The House has yet to act on either budget, but that is scheduled to change Thursday, when they pass both the state general fund (SGF) and education trust fund (ETF) budgets.

House Ways and Means General Fund Chairman Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) asked, “Are we going to do both budgets?”

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) answered, “Tomorrow will be a long day.”

McCutcheon advised members that they probably need to get a hotel room in Montgomery on Thursday night.

Many legislators are driving back and forth between their homes and the Statehouse due to COVID-19 concerns.

On Wednesday, the House passed 31 of members uncontested local bills. The Senate similarly addressed local legislation. These are bills that apply to just one county, city, or town.

Alabama has an arcane budgeting system where over 93 percent of state revenues are earmarked and there are multiple pots of money.

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The SGF funds about 80 non-education state agencies. Many of the state agencies also have their own revenue streams. Insurance taxes, sales taxes, use taxes, interest on the Alabama Trust Fund, etc. all flow into the SGF.

The ETF funds education. K-12 education, the state two-year college system, and higher education are all funded in the education budget. State income tax dollars are all earmarked for education. The ETF also collects some sales, use, and ad valorem taxes.

The state also has $billions in income that are outside of the budgeting process. By far the largest income source for Alabama state government is federal dollars, though most of that is for specific purposes such as: roads, public health, Medicaid, etc.
Tuesday the Alabama Senate passed the 2021 state general fund budget (SGF). Despite the economic fallout from the forced economic downturn, the Senate passed a $2,391,206,601 SGF budget, a $168,860,692 increase over the 2020 budget of $2,222,345,909. The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee has amended the Senate passed version of the budget, so it will still have to go back to the Senate for them to either concur to the House changes or send the SGF to a conference committee.

The ETF also shows an increase over the 2020 budget. The 2021 ETF is $7,217,422,487, a $91,527,235 increase over the 2020 ETF. This is the largest education budget in state history: but is far less than what legislators expected in February when the legislative sessions began.

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K-12 education is slated to get $4,952,141,395 a $71,564,486 increase from 2020. Higher education is budgeted to get $1,837,442,288, a $29,898,018 increase over 2020. Other state agencies with an appropriation from the ETF are budgeted to receive $427,838,804 a $9,935,269 cut from 2020.

In 2020 K-12 got 68.49 percent of the ETF funds. In 2021 that increased to 68.61 percent, a 0.12 percent increase. Higher ED received 25.37 percent of the funds in 2020. In 2021 that increases to 25.46 percent of the ETF. In 2020 other agencies received 6.14 percent increase. Those agencies were cut to just 5.93 percent of the ETF.

The House has to pass the ETF, before it can go to the Senate for their consideration.

Critics of the budgeting process have questioned the assumptions in both of these budgets. In February the economy was growing, stocks were up, and unemployment was at record lows. In March the rapidly spreading coronavirus global pandemic led to President Donald J. Trump (R) and the nation’s governors to shut down the economy.

The shutdowns have resulted in a global economic collapse. Oil prices have plummeted to record lows due to the lack of demand. Legislators are hoping that the economy can reopen and that it can snap back to something near what it was in February. The coronavirus continues to be a drag on the economy. 74,807 Americans have already died from COVID-19, including 2,528 on Wednesday.

If this turns into a long, protracted recession, state revenues could fall to their lowest levels in years. The ETF has hundreds of millions in reserves in the rolling reserve and the technology fund that could be still be accessed. A deep and protracted recession could require legislators to come back in special session to prorate the budgets.

The Senate wants to pass a number of bills to deal with the coronavirus crisis. The House, on the other hand, insists that they will only pass budgets and local bills. Unless that changes, this session could end as early as Friday.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with over nine years at Alabama Political Reporter. During that time he has written 8,297 articles for APR. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Legislature

Alabama lawmaker will attend her 19th COVID funeral

Rep. Barbara Drummond: “This virus has exposed the skeletons of not only Alabama but across the nation.”

Josh Moon

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(STOCK PHOTO)

When it comes to the tragedy of the COVID-19 virus, Rep. Barbara Drummond is more familiar than most. On Friday, Drummond will attend the funeral of a 56-year-old friend who died from coronavirus. It will be her 19th funeral this year for a close friend or family member who has died from the virus.

Drummond joined the Alabama Politics This Week Podcast to discuss the devastation she’s witnessed from the virus, and how it has exposed serious inequalities around the state and country.

“This virus has exposed the skeletons of not only Alabama but across the nation,” Drummond said. “The disparities not only in health care. But in education. In income. When you look at the African American communities that are affected by this virus, they are food deserts. People can’t get healthy foods. They can’t get access to quality health care. That’s what’s going on here.”

Drummond said that for too long, poor communities in this state have been vilified and thought of as deadbeats who don’t want to work, but in reality, they are stuck in a perpetual cycle of poverty due to a lack of basic resources and access to quality education, health care and job opportunities. 

“I hear people say all the time that people in this community don’t want to work,” Drummond said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. They don’t have the opportunity to support themselves and their families most of the time. If you think about it, you don’t know anyone who grew up dreaming of being poor.”

Drummond also discussed the upcoming legislative session and the Democrats’ plans to address some of the devastation from COVID. However, that work can’t be done until the Republican leadership that controls both houses establishes a workable plan to conduct the state’s business in a safe manner. 

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Drummond said she’s been in contact with leaders and has heard details of the plan. She’s not exactly comfortable. 

“I would not be honest to sit here and say I have no fears in going for the session,” Drummond said. “But I will go in with the recommendations of the CDC and the common sense that my mom raised me with. I will go because we have work to do and that work is very important to our state, especially now.”

You can listen to the entire interview with Drummond at the Alabama Politics This Week website or on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Congress

Alabama man arrested near Capitol had notes, cache of weapons, records show

Among the names on the handwritten notes in Coffman’s truck was Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indiana.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama man Lonnie Coffman’s truck, found by police parked blocks from the U.S. Capitol last week loaded with firearms, ammunition, a crossbow, smoke canisters and 11 Molotov cocktails.

Alabama man Lonnie Coffman’s truck, found by police parked blocks from the U.S. Capitol last week loaded with firearms, ammunition, a crossbow, smoke canisters and 11 Molotov cocktails also had handwritten notes with the names of a Democratic lawmaker, a federal appeals court judge and conservative commentators, denoting some as “bad guys” and some as “good guys,” according to court records unsealed Tuesday. 

Coffman, 70, of Falkville, was arrested last week attempting to return to his truck after the deadly riots, which left at least five dead, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick.

While securing a perimeter around the blocks in the area of the National Republican Club and the Democratic National Committee Headquarters, where police found two pipe bombs, police saw the handle of a firearm in the seat of a red GMC Sierra 1500 pickup truck with Alabama license plates, according to an affidavit signed by Lawrence Anyaso, special agent with the U.S. Capitol Police. 

According to a court filing in support of pretrial detention, in the truck, police found a handgun, assault rifle, shotgun and “several large-capacity ammunition feeding devices,” hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a crossbow, several machetes, smoke devices, a stun gun and 11 mason jars, which were later determined to contain homemade napalm. Coffman had two pistols on him when police arrested him while returning to his truck, according to court records. 

“The search of the defendant’s pickup truck contained concerning handwritten messages that raise alarm in the context of the January 6 rioting and criminal infringement on our nation’s democratic process,” the court filing states. “One was a handwritten note with words purportedly attributed to Abraham Lincoln – ‘We The People Are The Rightful Masters Of Both The Congress And The Courts, Not To Overthrow The Constitution But To Overthrow The Men Who Pervert The Constitution.'”

“The note also contained information about elected representatives (describing one as purportedly Muslim) and describing a judge as a ‘bad guy.’ Another set of handwritten messages were found on the back of a magazine, and contained purported contact information for ‘Conservative Talk Show Host Mark Levin,’ ‘Shaun [sic] Hannity,’ and ‘Senator Ted Cruz,’” the filing reads. 

Police found Molotov cocktails, guns and dozens of rounds of ammunition in Coffman’s truck. (VIA COURT RECORDS)

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Coffman told police that he had been living out of his truck in the D.C. area for roughly a week. 

“The defendant has a concerning history and characteristics that raise grave risk that he would endanger the community and flee if released,” acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin wrote to the court, requesting Coffman be held until trial. 

Coffman was indicted on Jan. 8 by a District of Columbia grand jury on 17 separate weapons charges. Coffman has no social media presence, and no state or federal criminal record, a search of those records revealed. Coffman’s ex-wife told WAAY 31 that she didn’t have anything to say about his arrest, but said,  “Yes, he voted for Trump.”

On one of the handwritten notes found in Coffman’s truck was the entry “Rep. Carson, D-Indiana (one of two muslims in House of Reps).”

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Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indiana, addressed his name being among the names on those lists in a statement Tuesday:

“It is extremely disturbing to learn from press reports that I was one of several individuals identified in a list of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ targeted for attacks. The indicted terrorist had the means and opportunity to carry out his plans to violently attack, injure and destroy government officials and related offices in our Nation’s Capitol. These were not idle threats. These were planned and organized measures to take my life, my colleagues’ lives and try to destroy our government.

Everyone who supported these attacks must be identified and prosecuted to the fullest extent possible,” Carson said.

“No American should ever be targeted for violence or death because they are Black, or Muslim, or because of their race or creed,” Carson said. “We must get all the facts about these attacks, including those complicit in their planning and execution, and we must work together to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”

Police found molotov cocktails, guns, smoke canisters and dozens of rounds of ammunition in Coffman’s truck. (VIA COURT RECORDS)

Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin in a briefing with reporters Tuesday said there are already more than 170 open cases on individuals suspected in the Capitol attack, and said he expects that number to grow. 

“We’re looking at significant felony cases tied to sedition and conspiracy,” Sherwin said.

Asked what intelligence the FBI received prior to the attack, and what was shared with Capitol Police, Sherwin said they had “a lot of intelligence information” and that it was all accessible to Capitol police.

“We’re looking at and treating this just like a significant international counterterrorism or counterintelligence operation. We’re looking at everything. Money. Travel records,” Sherwin said.

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Congress

After aid to deadly rally, Republican Attorneys General Association director resigns

Alabama AG Steve Marshall leads the Rule of Law Defense Fund, which paid for robocalls promoting the rally.

Eddie Burkhalter

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People are seen in the House gallery as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The executive director of the Republican Attorneys General Association resigned Monday amid mounting criticism after the group’s policy arm, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, paid for robocalls urging people to attend the rally that resulted in a riot and deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who heads the Rule of Law Defense Fund, in a statement Monday did not address why RAGA’s executive director, Adam Piper, resigned. 

“Every decision Adam made on behalf of RLDF was with the best of intentions and with the organization’s best interests in mind,” Marshall said in a statement. “Adam leaves a void that will be difficult to replace, but we wish Adam well as he pursues other opportunities that will allow him to spend more time with his family.” 

“Serving Republican attorneys general has been the honor of a lifetime and honestly a dream job,” Piper said in a statement obtained by the Associated Press. 

Democratic Attorneys General Association executive director Sean Rankin in a statement to APR called for more accountability. 

“The issue here was more than the robocall, and I hope what follows is a move to accountability for actions outside the bounds and for greater civility among state Attorneys General,” Rankin said in the statement. 

Prior to the protest, RLDF sent out robocalls detailing when and where citizens should meet, which was first reported by the watchdog investigative journalism group Documented. 

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“We will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal,” the robocall says, as recorded by Documented. “We are hoping patriots like you will join us to continue to fight to protect the integrity of our elections. For more information, visit MarchtoSaveAmerica.com. This call is paid for and authorized by the Rule of Law Defense Fund.” 

Marshall, speaking to The Montgomery Advertiser on Monday after a press conference on human trafficking and before Piper’s resignation was announced, said the internal review is ongoing.

Asked by the Advertiser whether he felt Trump bore any responsibility for the violence at the Capitol on Wednesday, and for comment on Trump’s potential impeachment, Marshall declined to comment. 

“I didn’t see anything about the rally,” Marshall said, according to the newspaper. “I don’t know anything about his remarks.” 

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Former RAGA chairman and current member Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton spoke at the Wednesday rally just before riots broke out, criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court, which quickly dismissed his lawsuit seeking to overturn election results in Wisconsin, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Marshall and 15 other Republican attorneys general signed on to Paxton’s failed lawsuit. 

“One of the great things about the state of Texas is that we did not quit. If you look at what Georgia did, they capitulated,” Paxton told the crowd before the riots. 

Prior to his resignation, Piper sent a statement to APR blaming the robocall call on staff. 

“The Republican Attorneys General Association and Rule of Law Defense Fund had no involvement in the planning, sponsoring, or the organization of yesterday’s rally,” Piper said:

“No Republican AG authorized the staff’s decision to amplify a colleague speaking at the rally. Organizationally and individually, we strongly condemn and disavow the events which occurred. Yesterday was a dark day in American history and those involved in the violence and destruction of property must be prosecuted and held accountable.”

Several companies told The New York Times that they were reviewing their support of RAGA, though none said they planned to cut ties, according to the newspaper

Cherokee Nation decided to withdraw its $150,000 contribution to the Republican Attorneys General Association on Monday, citing the robocall as inappropriate, according to News on 6, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, news station.

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Elections

Sewell condemns actions, comments by Republican colleagues

Sewell called for Republican colleagues who shared in conspiracy theories over the election to be held accountable.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, during a congressional hearing.

Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, in a statement to APR on Monday called out some of her Republican colleagues, specifically Congressmen Mo Brooks and Barry Moore, for what she described as their “irresponsible and inflammatory remarks” regarding the election outcome and statements made surrounding the deadly attack of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. 

Rep. Barry Moore, R-Alabama, on Sunday had his personal Twitter account suspended, and then he deleted his account, after two tweets he made regarding the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol drew criticism. 

“Wow we have more arrests for stealing a podium on January 6th than we do for stealing an election on November 3rd. Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Detroit, would be places I recommend you start; there is video evidence of these crimes as well! #ElectionIntegrityMatters,” Moore tweeted on Saturday. 

Before his account was suspended and deleted, Moore also tweeted in reference to the death of Ashli Babbit, 35, who was shot by a Capitol Police officer when she tried to crawl through a broken window inside the Capitol during the siege.

“@mtgreenee @NARAL I understand it was a black officer that shot the white female veteran . You know that doesn’t fit the narrative,” Moore tweeted Saturday. The tweet has since been deleted, but it has been archived by Pro Publica’s Politwoops project.

At least five people, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, have been killed related to the siege. Another Capitol Hill police officer, Howard Liebengood, who responded to the attack, died Saturday off duty, marking the second Capitol Police officer death since Wednesday. Police did not release his cause of death.

“Since Wednesday’s violent assault at the U.S. Capitol, I have been repeatedly asked my thoughts about the actions and comments of my Alabama colleagues, especially Rep. Mo Brooks and now Rep. Barry Moore,” Sewell said in a statement to APR on Monday. “While the Alabama congressional delegation has had a history of civility, if not congeniality, irrespective of political party, I cannot let the irresponsible and inflammatory remarks of some of my colleagues go unanswered.”

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She went on to say:

“It’s not okay for elected officials to continue to peddle lies and conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud and an allegedly-stolen presidential election.  President-Elect Biden won the election. There are simply no credible allegations of fraud, and upwards of 60 cases filed alleging problems with the election have been heard and dismissed by the courts. There are Trump appointed U.S. Attorneys throughout the country who were authorized by former Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate and prosecute allegations of fraud. Not one case has been filed by any of these Trump appointees.

“It is not okay for my congressional colleagues to use their public platform to incite Americans to overturn our election, storm the U.S. Capitol or assault our democracy. It’s called an insurrection and such seditious behavior must have consequences.  

“It’s not okay to use racial overtones to further spread deceptive narratives that perpetuate the lie that caused last week’s violent events. 

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“Such lawmakers must be held accountable. Their words and actions do matter and their complicity in inciting the vicious attack on our democracy must not go unchecked. I am deeply and personally offended by the outrageous comments and every Alabamian that believes in our democracy should be, too.”

Sewell was forced to shelter inside the Capitol after Trump supporters stormed the building, prompting the evacuation of some and a barricading of others as police tried to get control of an out-of-control siege.

Moore didn’t answer APR‘s questions Sunday about those tweets directly, but his chief of staff sent APR a statement from Moore on Sunday afternoon. 

“Lawlessness is not the answer to our nation’s problems, and every person who acts unlawfully is responsible for their own actions and should be held accountable to the full extent of the law, whether that’s Black Lives Matter, Antifa or Wednesday’s rioters,” Moore said in the statement. 

Brooks was an early supporter of challenging the certification of election results, an action that pleased President Donald Trump and his allies seeking to overturn the election, and spoke to the crowd gathered near the Capitol before the attack. 

“Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” Brooks yelled into his microphone. After the riots began, Brooks tweeted an unfounded rumor alleging it was antifa who started the rioting.

The day after the attack, Brooks told an Alabama conservative talk radio host that he had no regrets over his speech prior to the violence, according to The Intercept, telling the host that there was “mounting evidence of fascist antifa’s involvement in all of this.” 

The Federal Bureau of Investigations said on Friday that there was no evidence of antifa aiding pro-Trump supporters in the deadly attack. 

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